The marine environment faces an increasing number of threats, mainly driven by anthropogenic activities, that are causing growing impacts on marine species and processes. In Europe, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aims to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) of the European waters by 2020. The Directive specifically refers to biodiversity with the first of the eleven qualitative descriptors (proposed to help describe what GES should look like) being Biodiversity is maintained. For this descriptor, the status of several functional groups, including marine megafauna species, need to be assessed using criteria such as population size and condition and mortality due to bycatch in fishing gear that compare current values against agreed thresholds. To contribute to this process, we performed an assessment of the threats affecting the marine megafauna community (i.e. seabirds and marine mammals) in the Bay of Biscay synthesizing the available evidences and identifying the main threats affecting the marine megafauna to help prioritise the required management and conservation actions. We analysed 4023 admissions of seabirds recorded during 2004–2016 from four Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres (WRCs) to obtain an initial quantitative assessment of the pressures exerted on seabirds. The main marine threats identified in the Spanish North Atlantic sub-region were cachexia (52.3%) exposure to crude oil (10%) and interaction with fishing gear (5.3%). When considering all threats together, the common guillemot, the yellow-legged gull, the northern gannet, the great cormorant and the razorbill were the main affected species. In addition, we summarised the available information to perform an updated qualitative assessment of the severity of the threats faced by seabirds and marine mammals. The qualitative assessment showed that marine mammals are especially vulnerable to bycatch, vessel collision, and pollution-related threats, whilst seabirds are particularly sensitive to oil spills, bycatch and marine litter. This type of assessment studies can aid in the identification of priority areas and/or species where management measures should be applied to ensure that the ultimate goal of the MSFD, sustainable conservation of the marine environment, is reached.
Human Impacts on the Environment
A voluntary commercial vessel slowdown trial was conducted through 16 nm of shipping lanes overlapping critical habitat of at-risk southern resident killer whales (SRKW) in the Salish Sea. From August 7 to October 6, 2017, the trial requested piloted vessels to slow to 11 knots speed-through-water. Analysis of AIS vessel tracking data showed that 350 of 951 (37%) piloted transits achieved this target speed, 421 of 951 (44%) transits achieved speeds within one knot of this target (i.e., ≤12 knots), and 55% achieved speeds ≤ 13 knots. Slowdown results were compared to ‘Baseline’ noise of the same region, matched across lunar months. A local hydrophone listening station in Lime Kiln State Park, 2.3 km from the shipping lane, recorded 1.2 dB reductions in median broadband noise (10–100,000 Hz, rms) compared to the Baseline period, despite longer transit. The median reduction was 2.5 dB when filtering only for periods when commercial vessels were within 6 km radius of Lime Kiln. The reductions were highest in the 1st decade band (-3.1 dB, 10–100 Hz) and lowest in the 4th decade band (-0.3 dB reduction, 10–100 kHz). A regional vessel noise model predicted noise for a range of traffic volume and vessel speed scenarios for a 1133 km2 ‘Slowdown region’ containing the 16 nm of shipping lanes. A temporally and spatially explicit simulation model evaluated the changes in traffic volume and speed on SRKW in their foraging habitat within this Slowdown region. The model tracked the number and magnitude of noise-exposure events that impacted each of 78 (simulated) SRKW across different traffic scenarios. These disturbance metrics were simplified to a cumulative effect termed ‘potential lost foraging time’ that corresponded to the sum of disturbance events described by assumptions of time that whales could not forage due to noise disturbance. The model predicted that the voluntary Slowdown trial achieved 22% reduction in ‘potential lost foraging time’ for SRKW, with 40% reductions under 100% 11-knot participation. Slower vessel speeds reduced underwater noise in the Slowdown area despite longer passage times and therefore suggest this is an effective way to benefit SRKW habitat function in the vicinity of shipping lanes.
Widespread coastal urbanization has resulted in artificial light pollution encroaching into intertidal habitats, which are highly valued by society for ecosystem services including coastal protection, climate regulation and recreation. While the impacts of artificial light at night in terrestrial and riparian ecosystems are increasingly well documented, those on organisms that reside in coastal intertidal habitats are less well explored. The distribution of artificial light at night from seaside promenade lighting was mapped across a sandy shore, and its consequences for macroinvertebrate community structure quantified accounting for other collinear environmental variables known to shape biodiversity in intertidal ecosystems (shore height, wave exposure and organic matter content). Macroinvertebrate community composition significantly changed along artificial light gradients. Greater numbers of species and total community biomass were observed with increasing illumination, a relationship that was more pronounced (increased effects size) with increasing organic matter availability. Individual taxa exhibited different relationships with artificial light illuminance; the abundances of 27% of non-rare taxa [including amphipods (Amphipoda), catworms (Nephtys spp.), and sand mason worms (Lanice conchilega)] decreased with increasing illumination, while 20% [including tellins (Tellinidae spp.), lugworms (Arenicola marina) and ragworms (Nereididae spp.)] increased. Possible causes of these relationships are discussed, including direct effects of artificial light on macroinvertebrate behaviour and indirect effects via trophic interactions. With increasing light pollution in coastal zones around the world, larger scale changes in intertidal ecosystems could be occurring.
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill may be indicative of future large, deep spills that may occur in the coming decades. Given that future deepwater spills are possible, critical considerations include (1) establishing baselines for oceanic marine mammal and populations in at-risk areas, (2) understanding the implications of response choices for oceanic marine mammals, (3) designing studies with adequate coverage for post-spill monitoring, and (4) identifying effective strategies for oceanic marine mammal restoration. In this chapter, we consider these four stages in the context of a series of hypothetical oil spill scenarios, identifying ways that lessons learned from the DWH oil spill and prior events can be applied to future disasters.
Mangroves play an essential ecological role in the maintenance of the coastal zone and are extremely important for the socioeconomics of coastal communities. However, mangrove ecosystems are impacted by a range of anthropogenic pressures, and the loss of this habitat can be attributed primarily to the human occupation of the coastal zone. In the present study, we analyzed the spatial patterns of land use in the mangrove of the Brazilian Amazon coast, and evaluated the anthropogenic drivers of this impact, using a remote sensing approach. We mapped the road network using RapidEye images, and human settlements using global data. The results of these analyses indicate that the Brazilian Amazon coast has a low population density and low rates of anthropogenic impact in most of the coastal microregions investigated, factors that contribute to the maintenance and conservation of the region’s mangrove. The study also revealed that the paved road network is one of the principal drivers of land use in the mangrove, whereas other factors, such as population density, urban centers, and the number of settlements are much less important. While the region has 2024 km of paved highways, unpaved roads (17,496 km) facilitate access to the mangrove, with approximately 90% of anthropogenic impact being recorded within a 3 km radius of these roads. While the network of paved highways is relatively reduced in extension, preventive measures are urgently required to impede any major shift in the current scenario, caused by the expansion of major development programs. The results of the study indicate that biophysical, economic, and political factors may also contribute to the reduction, stability, and development of one of the world’s largest areas of mangrove forest.
As coastal population growth accelerates, intensive management practices increasingly alter urban shorelines, creating major conservation challenges. To evaluate key ecological impacts and identify indicators of coastal urbanization, we compared intertidal macroinvertebrate communities between urban beaches with intense maintenance regimes (sediment filling and grooming) and reference beaches lacking such maintenance in densely populated southern California. On urban beaches, intertidal communities were highly impacted with significantly reduced species richness, abundance, and biomass (effect sizes: 79%, 49%, 30%, respectively). Urban impacts affected macroinvertebrates across all intertidal zones, with greatest effects on upper intertidal wrack-associated taxa. On urban beaches altered intertidal communities were remarkably homogeneous across littoral cells in a biogeographically complex region. Functional diversity comparisons suggested degraded ecological functioning on urban beaches. No taxa flourished on urban beaches, but we identified several vulnerable indicator taxa. Our results suggest intense maintenance regimes on urban coasts are negatively impacting sandy beach ecosystems on a landscape scale. Beaches not subject to intense mechanized maintenance, can support high biodiversity, even near major urban centers.
Coastal systems are among the most studied, most vulnerable, and economically most important ecosystems on Earth; nevertheless, little attention has been paid, so far, to the consequences of human activities on the shallow sea-floor of these environments. Here, we present a quantitative assessment of the effects of human actions on the floor of the tidal channels from the Venice Lagoon using 2500 kilometres of full coverage multibeam bathymetric mapping. Such extended dataset provides unprecedented evidence of pervasive human impacts, which extend far beyond the well known shrinking of salt marshes and artificial modifications of inlet geometries. Direct and indirect human imprints include dredging marks and fast-growing scours around anthropogenic structures built to protect the historical city of Venice from flooding. In addition, we document multiple effects of ship traffic (propeller-wash erosion, keel ploughing) and diffuse littering on the sea-floor. Particularly relevant, in view of the ongoing interventions on the lagoon morphology, is the evidence of the rapid morphological changes affecting the sea-floor and threatening the stability of anthropogenic structures.
Sustainable development of the ocean is a central policy objective in Europe through the Blue Growth Strategy and globally through parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Achieving sustainable exploitation of deep sea resources is challenged due to the huge uncertainty around the many risks posed by human activities on these remote ecosystems and the goods and services they provide. We used a Delphi approach, an iterative expert-based survey process, to assess risks to ecosystem services in the North Atlantic Ocean from climate change (water temperature and ocean acidification), the blue economy (fishing, pollution, oil and gas activities, deep seabed mining, maritime and coastal tourism and blue biotechnology), and their cumulative effects. Ecosystem services from the deep sea, identified through the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework, were presented in an expert survey to assess the impacts of human drivers on these services. The results from this initial survey were analyzed and then presented in a second survey. The final results, based on 55 expert responses, indicated that pollution and temperature change each pose a high risk to more than 28% of deep-sea ecosystem services, whilst ocean acidification, and fisheries both pose a high risk to more than 19% of the deep-sea ecosystem services. Services considered to be most at risk of being impacted by anthropogenic activities were biodiversity and habitat as supporting services, biodiversity as a cultural service, and fish and shellfish as provisioning services. Tourism and blue biotechnology were not seen to cause serious risk to any of the ecosystem services. The negative impacts from temperature change, ocean acidification, fishing, pollution, and oil and gas activities were deemed to be largely more probable than their positive impacts. These results expand our knowledge of how a broad set of deep-sea ecosystem services are impacted by human activities. Furthermore, the study provides input in relation to future priorities regarding research in the Atlantic deep sea.
Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are characterized by prominent biological features susceptible to anthropogenic disturbances. Following international guidelines, the identification and protection of VMEs require a detailed documentation regarding both the community structure and the fishing footprintin the area. This combined information is lacking for the majority of the Mediterranean mesophotic rocky reefs that, similarly to deep-seabottoms, are known to host valuable animal forests.
A deep coralligenous site exploited by artisanal fishermen in the NW Mediterranean Sea is here used as a model to assess the vulnerability of animal forests at mesophotic depths and evaluate the sustainability of artisanal fishing practices, particularly lobster trammel net. The Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) footage is used to document the biodiversity and health status of the megabenthic communities, while discard data are employed to quantify the entanglement risk, discard rates of fragile species and threats to sea floor integrity.
A multidisciplinary approach is proposed for the assessment of the vulnerability criteria of an EU Special Area of Conservation, leading to specific managementmeasures, including the delineation of fishing restrictions.
Shoreline discharge representing approximately 80% of sewage generated by Sydney (Australia) was replaced with three deepwater ocean outfalls between 1990 and 1991. Beachwatch bacterial monitoring data collected between 1989 and 2016 were analysed to assess the impact of commissioning on bathing water quality along 32 km of coastline. Bacterial contamination was reduced by 26–99% during the first 32 months post-commissioning and in the longer post-commissioning period, 1993 to 2016, bathing water quality improved for 31 beaches. Relatively stable bathing water quality was observed for five other beaches after the 2001 upgrade of another shoreline wastewater treatment plant. Bacterial contamination of bathing water in this 24-year post-commissioning period was most influenced by rainfall in the 24-h to 9 am on the day of sampling. Bacterial contamination from surfacing shore-blown wastewater plumes was not evident, whereas stormwater-delivered bacterial contamination was apparent and varied between beaches.